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Tuesday, Apr 30, 2002

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`To be competitive, major ports must become profit centres'

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Any operation involving cost but without commensurate return must be examined and re-examined, according to Mr Ved Prakash Goyal, Shipping Minister.

KOLKATA, April 29

EACH major port has to function as a profit centre, according to Mr Ved Prakash Goyal, Shipping Minister.

Any operation involving cost but without commensurate return must be examined and re-examined, he said while talking to presspersons here. "This is necessary to reduce the port charges to enable ports to become internationally competitive," he observed.

The Minister identified huge workforce in most ports as one area that needed a closer look though, he conceded, the problem of surplus labour could not be resolved through retrenchment. The posts found redundant should be abolished after retirement of the persons concerned. In some cases, retraining and redeployment might be necessary.

The old equipment and outmoded practices too, in his opinion, needed a re-look. In Mumbai port, Mecon had been asked to make an appraisal and submit a report. A similar exercise perhaps could also be undertaken in respect of Kolkata port including Haldia.

The scope of proper utilisation of land particularly in old ports like Mumbai and Kolkata should be thoroughly explored as means to augment earnings of the respective ports. In Mumbai, some progress had been made in this regard. "They are trying to work out a model scheme which can be adopted in other ports," he said, expressing apprehension that perhaps the Urban Land Ceiling Act in West Bengal stood in the way of land development in Kolkata.

"If necessary, I will meet the West Bengal Chief Minister and the Mayor of Kolkata Municipal Corporation to work out the best possible solution," he said.

The Minister favoured outright sale of port lands in preference to lease, even long-term lease. "Lease, no matter even if it is for 99 years, would often create problems," he said.

Asked if he thought the high-cost dredging operation in the Hooghly river too, was something to be looked into, the Minister replied that there could not be two opinions about the need for carrying out dredging in the river for the survival of Kolkata port. The absence of dredging reduced the depth of the river and the proposed river regulatory scheme was aimed at improving the depth.

Kolkata port authorities, he said, had been asked to issue tender papers to the Chinese dredging firm, China Harbour Engineering Company, for the proposed river regulatory work. The company was earlier not allowed to pick up the tender documents following objection by the Defence Ministry.

"We have taken up the matter with the Ministry of External Affairs and are hopeful of getting the clearance," he said. "We will take the necessary safeguard measures that might be suggested by the MEA."

The contract for the Rs 350-crore river regulatory scheme would be awarded by August 15, he said.

In reply to a question, he said the Allahabad-Varanasi stretch of the National Waterway No. 1 would be thrown open to traffic, both for tourism purpose and cargo movement, within the next few months. Right now, dredging and work related to night navigation facilities were in progress, he added.

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